Born in Los Angeles, December 22, 1953
Notes on the Program:
Labyrinths for Solo Guitar (composed in 2007; 15 minutes):
The visual patterns of nature are a mesmerizing, infinite source of inspiration. Waves of wind and water, the shifting play of light and shadow, the maze of lines and shapes on rocks and trees .... In recent compositions, I have attempted to translate some of this into music. Labyrinths has five movements. In Shimmer, a four-note arpeggiated chord journeys through a cycle of repetitions, with a different arpeggio pattern for each set of repetitions. Each time a new cycle begins, one note in the chord changes, while the length of each cycle changes as well, in a gradual metamorphosis that moves inexorably away from the starting point, creating a complex aural maze. In Shadow, a four-note motif of fourths bounces around, with its “shadows” either imitating or contradicting—a little game, a scherzo, perhaps.
In the third movement, a low note shivers, a high note twitters like a bird, and the dialogue continues with the shivers increasingly higher and the twitters descending, meeting at last in the middle. In Shatter, a repetition pattern of a chromatic five-note motif leaps around the fingerboard in wild octave displacements, erupting into a violent “shattering” of snap pizzicati. This sets off a “worried” group of three notes in another pattern of repetitions. The leaping, shattering and worrying continue until they vanish into thin air. Finally, Shelter quietly obsesses on a simple three-note melody, accompanied by open strings, constantly varying the meter and phrase length. Toward the end there is a gentle sonic surprise.
Acrobats for Flute and Guitar (composed in 2002;12 minutes):
Nathan Englander’s debut short story collection, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, contains a story called “The Tumblers.” In it a group of Polish Jews, during World War II, is herded onto trains bound for the concentration camps, but instead, by chance, they board a train full of circus performers on tour to entertain the Germans. The story is set in an atmosphere where fateful decisions about life or death are made in an instant, by a nod of the head or toss of a coin.
Acrobats brings to musical life the final moments of the story, when the reluctant, disheveled performers are about to go on stage, barely having a clue of what it is they are supposed to do, but knowing that their lives depend on it. The piece is not intended to be a narrative description of these moments, but rather a musical evocation of the inner mental and emotional activity. In the first movement, In the Wings, the acrobats wait offstage with nervous anticipation, distracted by thoughts darting here and there—premonitions of themes of the second and third movements. This is followed by Flashback, a sudden memory of the pain, struggle and near-death experience that have brought them to this moment. The performers finally go Up in the Air, twisting, flipping and soaring in all manner of risky acrobatics. Just before the end, the guitar remembers an old Yiddish folk song, “Oyf’n Pripetshik,” a recollection of ancient Jewish roots in a contemporary world of assimilation. The piece ends with a return to the precarious. Acrobats is dedicated to my exceptional former student, Luiz Mantovani.
—by David Leisner
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